Michael Finnegan
May 24, 2014

If there’s one thing Republican Neel Kashkari needed this week to stay in the running for governor of California, it was money.

And he got it. Big donors have started spending more than $650,000 promoting the Laguna Beach newcomer to California politics.

Combined with the $4 million that Kashkari is spending, he’s on track to benefit from nearly 10 times as much money as his top Republican rival, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks.

Still, one critical question haunts Kashkari’s candidacy with the June 3 primary 10 days away: Is it too late?

By Friday, more than 1 million Californians had already cast early ballots, according to Political Data, a voter tracking company. And although the latest polls have found Kashkari gaining support, they also showed Donnelly still ahead.

“Every day that goes by, it gets harder and harder to close the gap,” said Wayne Johnson, a veteran Republican campaign consultant.

Anointed by Mitt Romney, Karl Rove, former Gov. Pete Wilson and other big-name Republicans as the favorite of the GOP establishment, Kashkari is struggling to introduce himself as an appealing alternative to Donnelly, a former Minuteman border-patrol leader with tea party leanings.

Some Kashkari backers take heart from recent Republican U.S. Senate primaries in which tea party insurgents were easily defeated by establishment candidates, a sign that some GOP voters are willing to forgive ideological impurity for the sake of beating Democrats in November.

“When that happens in places like Georgia, Kentucky and Idaho, it’s a sign of what’s happening nationally with the Republican base,” said Mike Madrid, a Republican campaign strategist based in Sacramento. “Does that trend wash into California? I don’t know.”

A key difference in deeply blue California is that few Republicans see any realistic chance of unseating Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat whose overwhelming lead in the polls has been a major impediment to Kashkari’s fundraising.

Even the roughly $5 million that will be spent on Kashkari’s campaign is relatively little for a state as vast as California — enough for minimal TV advertising and targeted mail to GOP primary voters.

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